Time for the annual Frank/Ohio-family pilgrimage to Sandbridge Beach, about thirty minutes south of Virginia Beach. There’s nothing much (make that nothing, period) to do here except go to the beach, make a few meals, and drink a few bottles of wine. (And of course, argue with Kids #1 through #3 about electronic time.)
This year, I’ve kept it simple: my parents are members of Alice Feiring’s Feiring Line Wine Society and are several months behind. So I just brought the bottles, along with a few other random selections. There are fewer of us along this year – but just as much wine. But I’m not one to let an unfinished bottle stop be from opening another bottle, so I am sure we’ll do just fine.
Sit back, relax, and if any of these bottles look intriguing… I might just know where you can buy them.
Los Pilares LaDona 2013
(San Diego County, California)
A petnat from San Diego. Who knew? Apparently Alice knew because she managed to scoop up three of the 30 cases made of this wine – that’s about 10% of total production. Los Pilares is a tiny-scale wine project that tries to make wines as naturally as possible (I’m going to stop saying that with every post, because if the wine is from Alice’s line up, “naturally as possible” is a given.) For these guys (for all natural-minded guys/gals, really) it starts with the grapes. San Diego isn’t the natural home for grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvingnon, so you won’t find those stand-bys under the Los Pilares label. Instead, they’re looking to grapes that are natural, traditional matches to the region's warm,
dry climate (which happen to be the same grapes you would find in the warm, dry south of France: Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan. And for this one, they’ve chosen Muscat, which is traditionally grown a lot in those parts where it’s traditionally used for sweet dessert wines.
But this wine is neither sweet, nor dessert. It’s a petnat – short for petillant naturel. It’s a specific sort of sparkling wine that’s all the rage among the natural set – partly because you can make it without much mucking around. And partly because it makes for a charming and delicious bottle of bubbles. How to: fermentation begins. Natural yeast and magic gnomes are involved. (Alright, there are no gnomes, but the yeast thing is pretty magic.) Before it’s finished, the partially fermented wine is bottled and capped and with a little luck and a prayer, it finishes fermentation into the bottle, where it’s transformed into a foamy, sparkly, bottle of happiness. Sometimes the end result might be sweet, sometimes dry. Sometimes it might be a overly funky microbial mess. Sometimes it might be delicious but um, explosive. The mystery is part of the magic. It seems like a simple process, but it’s not the easiest thing to get right and there’s no magic formula. But that’s part of the fun.
This particular bottle wasn’t a full-on gusher, but a slow, sneaky bubbly overflow was involved. The wine sees a bit of skin contact so it’s a bit orange-y - a golden peachy color. A touch of tannic structure. Totally unfiltered so it's nice and cloudy. Taste-wise, there's a little bit of funk with floral, ginger-y, honeyed notes. Sort of a cross between beer and cider and a clean, tasty orange wine – more foamy than full-on bubbly.
I liked it. My mother liked it. Y wasn’t crazy about it (but he pretty much likes Riesling and Barolo and that’s about it…. Excellent taste, but not terribly adventurous.) The big surprise… my father didn’t really like it – at least he didn’t like the first glass. But clearly not liking it didn’t stop him from drinking it. By the second glass, he’d stopped trying to make it taste like any wine he’s ever had before and just went with it… and began to enjoy it for what it was – a funky, foamy, orange-tinted bottle of fun.
Price: $27, but really, priceless. Because if you’re not already a member of the Feiring Line Wine Society, there’s no more to be had.